The Education Of Dustin Penner

Bobby and Surly have graciously invited me to become a regular contributor to their site.  I hope to continue the tradition of producing quality content with an edge while still having a shitload of fun.  I plan on focusing on many of the financial and business aspects of the team as I passionately believe that while players win games, organizations win championships.  As an ardent Kings fan for ten plus years, I live and die with this team and dream of the day when we hoist the Cup.

In the movie A Bronx Tale, the character played by Robert De Niro was a lowly bus driver who competed with the local, glamorous mobster in the education of the former’s son.  De Niro, while taking his son to work, demonstrated to him how one can take pride in performing even the most menial of jobs.  While unable to compete with the money and power his son’s gangster friend offered, De Niro reminded his son that the worst thing in the world is wasted talent.

While bringing back Jarret Stoll makes a lot of sense, I am far less sanguine on Dustin Penner’s future with the LA Kings.  In fact, let me go one step further and say that even if Penner has a great season, he should not be retained.  Let’s take a closer look why.  On the positive side, Penner is a man with unique gifts – tremendous size combined with more than adequate mobility and very soft hands.  This is a skill set ideally suited to the new NHL in that he can penetrate even the most suffocating of traps.  When he wants to, Penner can produce.  He has scored as many as 32 goals and 63 points in a season.  But, let’s take a closer look at his numbers.  His first full season with the Ducks was also the final year of his entry-level contract.  Penner was a key part of a Ducks team that won a Stanley Cup, scoring 29 goals and 45 points.  At that point, Penner got lucky when a desperate Oiler team looked to make a splash and tendered an offer sheet of 5 years $4.25 mm.  This was far above market value for a winger who had played only one full season in the NHL, and Brian Burke refused to match.

In Edmonton, Penner quickly found himself in Coach Craig McTavish’s dog house.  While his point total rose in his first year as an Oiler, Penner did not break out as the dominant player the Oilers had hoped for when they signed him to what was at the time a huge deal.  Moreover, in his second season in Alberta, Penner actually regressed by ten points leading his coach to call him out on his work ethic and motivation.  It was only in his third season when Dustin score 32 goals and 63 points where he arguably played up to his contract.  We all know what happened last season where Penner once again took a step back and showed up in LA in February dreadfully out of shape and unable to help the Kings advance in the playoffs.  At this point, Penner, now 28, is completely out of excuses.

What does this tell us about Dustin Penner as a person?  As well paid professionals, all of us have inherent obligations that go with the job.  For a lawyer, it is keeping up with the legal code that governs his area of practice.  Doctors have to constantly study the relevant drug formularies.  For a professional athlete, it is simple, stay in shape.  Many of us do that as a matter of course, taking up precious time in our day, for the health benefits even though we are not paid a dime for our efforts.  Penner, on the other hand is paid $4.25 mm dollars a year to stay in shape.  Put another way, he has only two things he must do each day outside of an actual game – go to practice and work out.  Based on what we saw last year, he failed to perform his primary responsibility as a professional.  Worse yet, because Penner is an extremely gifted athlete, one with abilities that lots of players with far less skill would die for, he can be accused of wasting away his talent.  In addition, Penner played on a losing team going nowhere- that we all know.  It is hard to escape the conclusion that he quit on his teammates.  Having served in the military, I remember you can complain all you want about the mission, the living conditions and your commanding officer, but you never, ever let the guy next to you down.  It is sad to think that Penner, going into the fourth decade of his life, still has not learned this basic lesson.

Looking forward, all reports indicate that Penner has been working out hard this summer.  Funny what a little shame and a contract year can do for one’s attitude.  There is little doubt he is going to get lots of quality minutes playing with excellent line mates and will have every opportunity to succeed.  With his skill set, a 50-60 point season is the floor for what we should expect this season from Dustin, and he could be even better.  That will make him eligible for a big payday.  Direct comparables are difficult to find, but Shane Doan at $4.55 mm would be at the very low-end and Rick Nash at $7.8 mm at the top of the spectrum of what Penner can expect as a salary on the open market.  Given Penner’s age and the fact this will be his last big contract, he will probably be looking for a deal between $5.5 and $6.5 million if he hits or exceeds 60 points.  Perhaps, he could be had at the low-end of that range given that his home is in Los Angeles, and his wife has her career here.

I believe the Kings should pass on such a deal.  Despite a matchless skill set that is as rare as it is a marvel to observe when properly honed, do the Kings really want to commit that much cap space to a player that only works hard when in a contract year?  Yes, 60 point power forwards do not grow on trees and size cannot be coached, but in Dean Lombardi’s system, with its emphasis on building from the back forward, there is only room for one highly paid wing within our salary structure.  That cannot and should not be given to a player who needs to be pushed by his coaches rather than motivating himself and one who has grown disinterested playing on a losing team.  Doing so would send the wrong message to the locker room while at the same time disrupting the culture which Lombardi is working so hard to build on the Los Angeles Kings.



Categories: L.A. Kings News

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36 replies

  1. Too early to judge ones charicter and work ethic, d.l might have lit a pile of t.n.t under dustins butt. I think.hes gona prove alota people wrong, but thats if his heart is in the right place. How can you judge a player of his tallent when he only played with one talented team, then was picked up by the bad news bears of hockey. I would lose motivation as well, now all the motivation a player of his caliber needs is at his feet, we shal see go kings go

  2. The summer regime is the key to what I think has opened the door to a whole new mentality. He was never been pushed (and was not shy about admitting it) to work, or push anywhere near as hard as he is now. I believe with success, he will realize that this is the only way he can approach his career from here on out, and being with the Kings organization will further encourage this new dedication to a fitness regime that places him in top physical condition, because this is the mantra that all our Kings have come to dedicate themselves too now.

    It’s too early to predict wether it will translate to on ice performance, but I’m personally not going to overlook it, if it does. This wasn’t just a “work a little harder” thing with Penner, but a lifestyle that DL was selling Penner, and so far Penner seams completely sold.

    I’m not forgetting his past, but people can turn things around, no matter what walk of life your in, as long as someone reaches through to you. I’m obviously betting that this could be that turnaround for Penner, and DL is the guy that got through to him. Hard to say right now, how it will turn out, but lets give him a chance to see what he can do for us before we prejudge, and sell him down the road.

    You lose nothing by at least waiting to form an opinion since he’s going to play for us anyway.

  3. … I find it curious how people who haven’t won a Stanley Cup can call out guys who HAVE won one, and essentially say that a guy who has made it to the highest level of his craft is someone who doesn’t try hard. That’s unbelievable to me.

    Penner’s played fewer than 25 games for the Kings. I think maybe he should be given at least a half-season here to show what he can do before labeling him, for all intents and purposes, as a worthless bum. Just my feeling.

    • Half a good point. The second point. He deserves a chance, although his label came with him and wasn’t generated purely because of his 20+ games with the Kings.

      As for the Stanley cup point, we can boil That down to where we shouldn’t criticize any NHL players, because after all, they made it to the NHL when none of us can say the same.

      • we can boil That down to where we shouldn’t criticize any NHL players

        … I didn’t say that. What I said was that it’s unbelievable to me to think that someone who has reached the pinnacle of his profession, and contributed to a high degree to a team that won a championship (second on the team in goals despite playing 2nd/3rd line minutes) got to that point by essentially not trying and not caring that much.

        Penner’s a limited player. I think people have to truly understand what they have in him, here. He’s about a 45 point player. Now, he might have a big season, but expecting more than that is unrealistic, in my view, and the tendency to rip a player’s level of desire – simply because he didn’t reach a level someone else placed for him – is weak. It says more about the person who is overrating the player than the player himself.

        • Well the mere fact that you consider Penner a 45 point Guy kind of reinforces the idea of him being fat and lazy, because of you take a Guy with Penner’s size and awesome skill set and add to it a healhty dose of pride in athleticism you should end up with a Guy who regularly scores more than 45 points. More motivated, less talented players frequently reach 45 points. Dustin Brown is a great example of this. He doesn’t nearly Have Penner’s natural offensive ability and sort hands, but he manages more than 45 points regularly almost sheerly out of determination.

          • Soft hands, not sort hands.

          • … Now, see – you’re overrating Penner and underrating Brown here. And that happens a lot, especially by Kings’ fans. Brown is probably the most underrated player on the Kings’ team. Brown has better hands, especially for passing, than Penner does now or ever did in the past.

            As I said, it’s weak to say that because a player doesn’t live up to an overrated view of what YOU feel he should be, that he’s lazy or doesn’t try. If it makes you feel better about yourself, that’s cool. There’s this need for people to put labels on players, maybe it’s a way for someone to look like they know more than they actually do? I’ll never know. Some guys just get anointed with a label of “uncaring” or “content” or “lazy” or “heart and soul” or whatever the hell else, and there’s just this assumption that X player has X amount of skill that’s usually never based on anything – just thrown out there.

            This is probably the main reason why I have such a fondness for adding the context of numbers to my own enjoyment of the game. In a World of biased and subjective opinions based on God Only Knows what, it’s nice to take a look at something that isn’t affected by all that bullshit.

          • Well I just disagree that expecting 30 and 30 from Penner is too much to ask. If it is, given his skill set, then I don’t know what else to look at with Penner other than work ethic. You are obsessing over the label. Well the label comes from somewhere. It didn’t rise out of some ‘need’ to put labels on players. Is saying Kopitar is good just putting a label on him? No, it’s an assessment of watching him play. You get up in arms any time someone is called lazy or whatever the euphemism may be for the day. It’s as if you inherently trust that all NHL players are giving it their all at all times, which is nonsense. Not all players are created equal in terms of skill, nor are they in terms of motivation and work ethic. Perhaps it is you who has the need to believe that the players in the sport you love have the attitude that if they didn’t have, would be shameful, and therefore shame you for intrinsically trusting that players can’t be lazy unmotivated. It bursts your bubble, as it were. :)

            And I knew you’d say that I was underrating Brown, but I’m really not. I didn’t say he has poor hands, or is unskilled. Penner has the better natural knack for scoring goals. Seeing the kinds of goals he scores versus the kind Brown does it all the evidence of that i need. Brown is a better passer, I’ll give you that. Hwever i will maintain that Brown has more determination than skill and that the opposite is true of Penner.

            If I wanted to base my opinions purely on numbers because the ‘world is full of biased and subjective opinions, then I’d be a baseball fan. Hockey is an emotional sport, and a players emotions absolutely play into his effectiveness on the ice. If you want to deny that, then I’ll be happy to sit here and call you crazy. From where i sit you are uncomfortable discussing subjective notions (I wont speculate as to why) and therefore dismiss them outright as if the subjects of those subjective opinions are non-issues purely because they can’t be stringently quantified. Well just because we can bicker about something subjectively doesn’t make the issue itself less relevant. I see your attitude about this kind of thing akin to saying that since we cant agree on what makes a beautiful woman that therefore looks just don’t matter.

            And you saying that We call a player Lazy to make ourselves feel better is just an asinine statement that I can only assume is just a meaningless taunt. A way of dismissing my opinion out of hand because you don’t think it’s right of me to have an opinion about this subject in the first place.

          • This foo iz trippin Surz! Obviously he didn’t see the same games we did and watch Penner take no more than 2 strides then coast for 15ft. The lack of back checking every single time back up the ice is all the evidence I need to see before words like lazy, heartless, and unmotivated come into mind. Can players change….? Most definitely, and I sure hope so in Penners case. We need him to offer NJ for Parise!

          • Well I just disagree that expecting 30 and 30 from Penner is too much to ask.

            … OK. I mean, he did it one season, at age 27 – the age that most players reach their peak – so yeah, he should do that every year, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Career years are called “career years” for a reason. If a guy gets a hat trick, like say, Dominic Lavoie … he got a hat trick for the Kings a long time ago. Why didn’t he do that every game??? With an 84-game season at the time, he should have potted over 250 goals! Clearly he just didn’t try very hard the rest of the season, because expecting a hat trick every game is certainly not too much to ask – after all, he’d shown he was capable of doing that, right? Because, you know, his “skill set” …

            If it is, given his skill set

            … What’s his “skill set”??? Can you answer me that? What does it translate to? Any comparables we can look at? Why is he capable of scoring 60 points, but not 70 or 80? Or why is he capable of scoring 60 points, instead of the customary 45 he’s posted nearly every season except for his age 27 career year? Just sounds to me like you’re pulling a phrase or a label out of your ass. One of the reasons I don’t like labels is because they’re arbitrary and they change from one extreme to the other, depending on what’s trendy. Steve Yzerman was known as a man who “put up flashy numbers but couldn’t win the big one”, destined to be traded to Ottawa in 1996 – until, of course, he showed he could win it all. Thereafter, he was known as “total heart and soul Captain, a winner, and a gamer”, and the only real change was that he went from having teammates who were poor to fair to having teammates who were magnificent. He was pretty much the same player that he always was. It was the labels of him that changed.

            Is saying Kopitar is good just putting a label on him? No, it’s an assessment of watching him play.

            … No, it’s from the results he’s putting up while he’s on the ice, and the results his linemates are putting up while on the ice. It all comes down to results. This isn’t figure skating. People don’t “judge” on anything in hockey but the bottom line. If Anze wasn’t productive, he’d be sent back to Slovenia. I don’t care how well he looks when he plays. Luc Robitaille was never all that pretty to watch, but he was quite easy on the eyes when the puck was in the back of the opponent’s net.

            It’s as if you inherently trust that all NHL players are giving it their all at all times, which is nonsense.

            … No, that’s an exaggeration. Sure, there are differing levels of work ethic, but no one who is in the NHL gets there and, more importantly, stays there by being lazy. There’s too much competition and too few slots to fill. There are too many levels to climb in organized hockey, from atoms/peewees to midget to junior to the minors to the NHL, for someone to coast along. I think it’s more of a case where you believe that there’s a huge disparity of effort among players in the league, when there really isn’t; and there’s so much more made of it than what it’s really worth. Mountains out of molehills, as it were.

            And I knew you’d say that I was underrating Brown, but I’m really not.

            … Actually, yes you are. That’s why I said it, and why you knew I would say it.

            Penner has the better natural knack for scoring goals. Seeing the kinds of goals he scores versus the kind Brown does it all the evidence of that i need.

            … So, this is a beauty contest. OK! It’s about how “pretty” the goals are. And here I was thinking every goal counted the same. Like I said, this isn’t figure skating. There are no points awarded for artistic expression, here.

            If I wanted to base my opinions purely on numbers because the ‘world is full of biased and subjective opinions, then I’d be a baseball fan. Hockey is an emotional sport, and a players emotions absolutely play into his effectiveness on the ice.

            … People base their opinions on the numbers all the time, even in hockey. Sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s the truth. Corey Perry won the Hart trophy because he scored 50 goals. Zdeno Chara got nominated for the Norris because he had an NHL-leading +33 mark. The Vezina Trophy winner usually goes to the goalie with the most wins, although now we’re seeing more of an encouraging trend toward leaders in save percentage. This goes on all the time, and emotions have not one whit to do with it. You’re basing your opinion of Dustin Penner on the numbers (if he puts up 30 and 30, he’s golden, right?).

            From where i sit you are uncomfortable discussing subjective notions (I wont speculate as to why) and therefore dismiss them outright as if the subjects of those subjective opinions are non-issues purely because they can’t be stringently quantified.

            … I’m just asking that they be quantified at all; that they have SOME justification and SOME basis in reality. Instead of, you know, pulled out of one’s ass, as they are 99.9999% of the time.

            I see your attitude about this kind of thing akin to saying that since we cant agree on what makes a beautiful woman that therefore looks just don’t matter.

            … I’ll just chalk this up as you knowing this was irrelevant before you even wrote it, but thought “ah what the hell, I’m a writer! More words!”

            And you saying that We call a player Lazy to make ourselves feel better is just an asinine statement that I can only assume is just a meaningless taunt.

            … Nah, people usually do it precisely to feel better about themselves, to vent their dislike of a player or to sound funny or edgy or more knowledgeable, like they know the REAL story here. And I find it funny that you used “We” in that sentence. Did a few people gather to write this reply with you? Is this a “team” reply? If so, I’d expect a better effort next time.

            You see what I did there?

          • This isn’t baseball, where pretty much everything in the game can be quantified. Numbers paint a very incomplete picture of the game.

            The evidence you are requesting from us can only be delivered by watching the actual games, you know, the parts where Penner could barely move his ass up and down the ice in a timely manner. There are no stats for this, yet it is still reality.

          • Far too many nonsensical exaggerations, too little time.

          • If 45 points is all can reasonably expect from Penner, he is over paid.

          • … According to the online hockey community, 99.9999999% of all pro athletes are considered overpaid, so I suppose Penner’s just one out of many.

          • … If you can’t hang, that’s cool. But the whole “pot kettle black” thing with you is getting pretty tiresome.

          • Lol.

            I was planning to respond when i first started reading your post, But when you start with whatever that illogical point about Dominic Lavoie was, that me expecting 10-15 more points from Penner is even remotely equivalent to expecting someone to score 250 goals in a season, and THEN go on to tell me i am exaggerating, my penchant arguing is replaced with apathy.

            When you can’t concede that we can discern different skill sets from different players, my entertainment in engaging you becomes more work than pleasure.

            When you combat my point about Brown with a simple ‘yes you are’ in your post without at all considering what i said in mine.

            When you make a childish point about my usage of ‘we’, I remember middle school and how glad I am that I’m not there any more.

            When someone who emphasizes numbers and quantifications over all else, to the point of dismissing anything that is simply observed or remarked upon by the human eye and then go on twice to use the percentage advertised on a bottle of anti-bacterial sanitizing lotion to illustrate a point about something that is based purely on your subjective observations, the kind you refuse to allow anyone else to have, then i realize i am talking myself.

        • Penner couldn’t handle a shift longer than 20 seconds last season without stumbling off the ice out of breath. I saw it with my own eyes over and over again. Perhaps $4 + million a year doesn’t buy what it used to.

    • At the end of the day, there is NO EXCUSE for any professional athlete to not be in shape. And just because a player wins a Cup, does that mean his efforts can never be questioned for the rest of his career? In one of the few sports left that actually has the “team first” approach, these players all do whatever it takes for each other. Why else would guys dive in front of 90 mph slap shots and literally do things on the ice that would land you in jail if you just sitting on the other side glass. It especially sickens me when I’m running up bleachers and doing wind sprints on a hot Sunday afternoon in preparation for my “beer league” games which actually cost me over $400 a season, instead of getting paid $4 mill +. Penner is a bum and I will continue to think so unless proven otherwise.

    • What are you trying to say, that someone who has never won a championship is not in a place to tell someone who has how they should prepare for their sport? I always think it’s funny when someone brings that into an argument. It might have some validity if this were an individual sport, but it’s not, and even then, just because someone HAS done something in the past (like prepare for their sport to become a champ), does not mean they are still doing it or couldn’t do something better.

      I agree we shouldn’t be making our final judgments on him just yet, but he was clearly out of shape last season and deserved any kind of flak he got for his fitness.

  4. Penner reminds me of a coworker of mine who signed our union card, accepted the raise we negotiated and then thought he would sit out our witholding of services on “vacation”. Maybe our little talk with him brought him to Jesus, and then maybe it just showed him where his most immediate interests lay. But if I had to bet real money on what he’ll do next time if left to his own, can you guess where I’d place my dollars? Would you bet real money and the success of your venture that he’d be there when you need him? Would you count on it, plan on it? With no immediate necessity hanging over him – just his character as insurance? I hope Penner makes the most of this coming season, then signs with the Rangers – unless he would be satisfied with one-year contracts.

  5. Irish has a valid point. Hard to judge Penner after having spent only a year before being exiled to Edmonton. Sisyphus comes to mind. Was there even a mentor for the still young Penner?

    Long time Kings fans witnessed many players regain a sense of self and excel on new teams after having been ruined by the old Kings system. Same may hold true for Penner.

    That said, I share the same concerns HR expressed about back sliding and character following the contract year.

    I will reserve judgement but admit having long fretted about resigning Penner. Edmonton or not there is a matter of pride and habit. And some habits are hard to break. When Penner first appeared I asked my self “who lets them self go like that?”.

  6. Now if DL would only hire this Noelle Wood person, I bet even the most slothish, slovenly, smug of our players could be whipped into shape in no time:

    http://www.poledancingvideocourse.com/

    Wanna unleash your “secret vixen”, Dustin? C’mon, you can do it big boy!

    (Anthony Robbins, eat your heart out.)

  7. Penner was not ‘exiled’ to Edmonton. He freely signed a huge deal with them with the mutual expectation that he would continue to develop into a player deserving of those numbers. Brian Burke, someone who knows more about this than any of us, refused to match the offer. Penner had one season where he played up to the level of his contract, and last year allowed himself to get woefully out of shape. I don’t know, but his does not sound like a guy we should be cutting a lot of slack for. I hope for the team’s sake he bounces back, but making him the highest paid wing on the club? No way.

    • Of course your correct. It was a chosen, not forced exile.

      Again, nice piece. I tend not to be forgiving. If Penner gives a good contract year then the Kings end up as a desirable place to play with an intriguing commodity in hand.

  8. Gave up way too much to get him, the only way this story makes sense is a deadline trade to get something in return. or sign him at a reduced salary. Maybe keep signing him to 1 year deals so every year is a contract year. Gary Roberts offseason fitness clause? Letting him go UFA and not tendering an offer would be like throwing 1 round draft picks in the trash can.

  9. Wow…..way to make an entrance Howard!! Truer words have never been spoken. Nice post buddy and looking forward to the next cameo!

  10. Penner cost the Ducks 3 1st round draft picks
    Penner cost the Kings 3 1st round draft picks (Teubert was two + the Kings pick)

    Has there ever been a guy worth 6 1st round draft picks as underachieving as Dustin Penner?

  11. Whether or not to keep him depends on 1) How the team does this season esp. playoffs 2) how he does in terms of productivity and 3) what kind of chemistry he has with his teammates.

    Maybe he will get out of his pubescent funk and find an epiphany…

  12. Great article, couldn’t agree more

  13. Thank you and Welcome Howard! Nice in depth and easy to understand article. I was very excited and then disappointed with our acquisition of Pemner. I will keep this article in case he has an amazing year and once again I give him more credit then he deserves.
    GO KINGS GO!!!

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